B’nai Amoona loans Torah to Air Force base

Andrew Kerman
From left, Col. John Shipman, a chaplain with the U.S. Air Force, receives a Torah from Rabbi Orrin Krublit, Rabbis Carnie Shalom Rose, and Rabbi Neal Rose, all of B’nai Amoona. The congregation loaned the Torah for Jewish Air Force servicemen at Whiteman Air Force Base in Knob Noster, Mo. Photo: Andrew Kerman

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

Jews serving in the United States Air Force in western Missouri can now host more meaningful prayer services thanks to the loan of a Torah by Congregation B’nai Amoona.

“I think for us it is the notion of the sharing of the wisdom of our tradition,” said Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose of B’nai Amoona. “We have this notion that we should make available to the world the great secrets, depth and insight of our tradition. This is an opportunity to do that.”

The Torah was transferred Oct. 10 during a dinner hosted at the West County synagogue, which welcomed a delegation from Whiteman Air Force Base, an installation near Knob Noster Missouri, about 70 miles southeast of Kansas City. 

Chaplain Lt. Col. John Shipman said this is the first time he’s aware of a scroll being loaned to an operational wing of the Air Force, though they do have a Torah on-site at the Air Force Academy.

“The reason why it is important is because it is historic,” he said. “It is so rare for this to happen.”

Shipman was among several uniformed personnel from the chaplain’s staff to attend the event where diners enjoyed vegetarian chili before the official transfer. That ceremony included the signing of documents, brief remarks and the rendition of anthems for both the United States and Israel.

Due to the three-hour travel time involved, no Jews from Whiteman could attend the gathering. Shipman could not disclose the size of the base or how many Jews were serving there but indicated that there was a Judaic presence.

“We have a minyan or more,” he said.

The loan arose from an idea by a Jewish chaplain studying to become a rabbi, said Rose. B’nai Amoona, which has about 15 scrolls, then responded to a general call from the St. Louis Rabbinical Association.

Rose said that the holy document would be left in the care of the base for “as long as they need it.”

The scroll itself is no stranger to travel. Eight years ago to the day of last week’s event, the congregation held a gathering to welcome the same Torah back to the congregation after four-and-a-half decades at a Springfield, Mo., correctional center to which it was loaned by the late Rabbi Bernard Lipnick. The scroll was eventually returned when Jewish prisoners were no longer housed at the facility.

“This is the very same scroll that once served those folks and will now serve the brave men and women of our Armed Forces,” Rose said. “I find it wonderful that we’re able to help out Jewish servicemen and women who might be somewhat isolated on a base and otherwise might not have access to the ritual object itself. The Torah is the single holiest item that we have.”

Assistant Rabbi Orrin Krublit noted the importance of the event and the revered place of the Torah.

“The Torah is really thought of as a person and the scroll itself is meant to be treated with respect,” he said, “so it makes sense that we’re here to perform this ritual and this ceremony to transfer custody of the Torah because if we just passed it off like any other book, we would be doing a great disservice to the sanctity of the scroll itself and what it stands for.”

Rose said that the scroll might also attract Jews not serving at Whiteman.

“It may be that they are a gathering place for other bases on holidays,” he said. “Servicemen and women may come there to that particular base in order to experience holiday time.”

Shipman said that the loan was part of an ongoing commitment on the part of both himself and base commander Gen. John J. Nichols to provide a worship experience for everyone. A recent chapel renovation at Whiteman saw the addition of designated prayer space for both Jews and Muslims.

“With the Torah it becomes a useable space where people can and do want to sit and worship,” he said.

Richard Hitt, vice-president of communications for the congregation, said the transfer of a Torah is a sacred act.

“We feel honored to be able to participate in this mitzvah,” he said.

Rose feels it certainly qualifies as an act of loving kindness.

“I have a strong sense that this is going to make a very significant difference in the lives of the servicemen and women who will have the opportunity to use this scroll,” he said. “That makes us very proud.”